My First Teddy Bear

A lovely gift from the Gothenburg Airport shop
A lovely gift from the Gothenburg Airport shop

I never had any soft toys as a child – we were too poor for such luxuries. We had a game of Ludo and that was that, but Josh and I showered our four children and grandchildren with soft toys. Josh especially finds them irresistible. Our John Dobbie toyshop always had loads.

When I saw this gorgeous soft cuddly teddy bear in the Gothenburg Airport shop I had to have it. He sits on my bedside table with the two or three books I am in the process of reading and sometimes creeps into bed with me.

As a child, I lived in a cramped cold-water tenement in Petticoat Lane. We played outside whenever we could, though on rainy days we’d slip into the unused communal laundry room on the top floor of our block.

Memoir extract from Woman in a White Coat

We had all the streets as a playground though, until Petticoat Lane market closed, our playground was the courtyard between the blocks of flats.

Only rich people had cars before the war, so we didn’t have to worry about traffic. After the stall holders packed up, we’d rescue a discarded orange box to make a bat and wicket. Once the dustmen had cleared away the rotten fruit and debris, someone would bring down a much-used tennis ball and we’d play cricket in the street.

Sometimes we’d play leap frog over each other, over the tall bollards on pavement corners and over the waist‑high electrical junction boxes. The metal left a sour smell on your hands that was hard to wash off.

We chalked squares for Hopscotch on the pavements or in our courtyard. You threw a dried up piece of orange peel into the next numbered square and jumped first with two legs and then one until you reached the peel. Then you turned around and came back again.

Girls played Higher and Higher and other skipping games. We sang:

I know a boy.
He’s double jointed
He kissed me and made me disappointed
When he died I found another one
His name begins with ….’

chanting ABCDE… until the girl skipping caught her foot in the rope. We then had to guess the name of the boy she loved, beginning with the letter we’d stopped at.

Cat’s Cradle was played with long pieces of clean string picked up from the debris the stallholders left. We tied it into a loop and lifted over each other’s outstretched hands it in ever more complicated patterns.

The aim of Knock down Ginger was to bang on a door with its heavy iron knocker and run away just as the occupant came to the door. If you were lucky, you caught a woman still in her curlers and underwear.

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